Upgrade to Fen Line could bring economic boost

THE economy in East Cambridgeshire and the Fens could receive a massive boost if a scheme to increase train services from King’s Lynn to Cambridge is given the green light.

Network Rail has announced it is exploring the possibility of providing a half-hourly service on the Fen Line rail link, which also includes Ely and Downham.

This multi-million pound scheme could reduce the travel time for thousands of rail passengers who pack trains to commute from the district to London everyday.

It could also spark an influx of commuters moving into the towns and villages along the line right up to King’s Lynn to take advantage of quicker services to the capital and breathe fresh life into the area.

The announcement follows calls from Norfolk and Cambridgeshire MPs for an upgrade of the line between King’s Lynn and Cambridge as part of future investment by Network Rail.

It also comes as pressure continues to mount to make sure that Norfolk’s Olympic dream is not derailed by poor rail links between Norwich and London.

Rail passengers who travel and commute to from the west of the county to London and Cambridge on a regular basis have also welcomed the announcement.

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Colin Sampson, chairman of the Fen Line Users Association, has said it would be “wonderful” if the scheme was given the green light.

North East Cambridgeshire MP Stephen Barclay and Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, have said they will continue to “push hard” for the Fen Line upgrade ahead of Network Rail announcing its future capital funding for 2014 to 2019 next year.

Mr Bellingham said: “Having been one of the key players in securing the electrification of the line from Cambridge to King’s Lynn back in the early 1990s, I am now very keen to secure the next big step forward in terms of improving both the line and the level of service.

“We all live in a very competitive world and if King’s Lynn and West Norfolk are going to secure their share of inward investment it is essential that we have an improved rail service.”

Transport minister Theresa Villiers has already said that passengers on the Fen Line could benefit from new inter-city express trains from 2018, which will offer shorter journey times to London

But speaking at Transport Questions last month, she said: “This is subject to satisfactory outcome of contractual negotiations with Agility Trains, and timetabling arrangements that will be finalised with the future franchisee.”

Network Rail has said it will present a full cost analysis for the provision of a half-hourly service by September this year.

A spokesman said another track would need to be put in place between Littleport and Downham Market in order to accommodate a half-hourly service.

He said: “The decision whether to invest in the infrastructure or not will come down to the business case and how strong it is.

“But we are very happy to look at what needs to be done to deliver this service and go back to Elizabeth Truss with how much it will cost and if it is something which can be done.”